Art Scene Profiles

Introducing Taiwanese Artist Hung Yi

Hung Yi's playful animal sculptures at InSian gallery in Taipei.

From the instant Hsien-Cheng Ou laid eyes on Hung Yi’s exquisitely playful and colorful sculptures, he realized he would rise to become one of Taiwan’s most prominent artists. Though the founder of Taiwan’s InSian gallery has spent his nearly 30-year career working with Chinese masters, Ou was drawn to Yi’s oeuvre for its modern take on traditional Chinese culture. “We met him six years ago while we were curating a group show in which we tried to categorize three generations of contemporary artists,” says August Ou, Ou’s son and right hand at his bustling Taipei gallery. “We immediately realized that Yi needed to be elevated, he was in a class all his own.”

Ou and his family have represented the artist since 2010, in which time his career has skyrocketed: Various exhibitions across Taiwan, a foray into the American art world with a San Francisco debut at the San Francisco Civic Center Plaza, and a solo show at Hakone Open-Air Museum in Tokyo, where Yi is one of just two Chinese artists that have been invited to exhibit at the prestigious Japanese institution. Later this summer, Yi will enter the New York art world, exhibiting a new curatorial perspective on his iconic work, “Fancy Animal Carnival” in the center of New York City’s Garment District. Presented in partnership with Emmanuel Fremin Gallery, Yi will exhibit eight large-scale animal sculptures at the Broadway Pedestrian Plazas in New York City’s Garment District, each an interpretation of how Yi interprets everyday Chinese life.

Such a meteoric rise is quite impressive for Yi, who spent years just trying to stay afloat. The 46-year-old artist spent the better part of the 1990s managing various restaurants, where he would often use the space as his own personal canvas. “Back then, he was actively exploring and experimenting in his restaurants. He would paint the walls, paint on patrons, paint on everything he saw,” says Ou. “He was really avant-garde at the time.” By his 30s, Yi had decided to dedicate himself to art full-time, after one of his exhibitions garnered substantial critical praise.

According to Ou, Yi’s work is extraordinarily representative of a bygone era of Chinese tradition, which is a large part of what makes Yi’s work so thrilling for Taiwanese art insiders. “Taiwan is the only country that inherited the authenticity of Chinese culture, the ancient way, the traditional way. We keep the traditional characters,” says Ou. “Yi incorporates those ideas into his composition, and transforms those elements into his expression on the surface, using bold colors to illustrate the folk art embedded within.” Ou says Yi’s goal in art-making goes far beyond bring a smile to a viewer’s face. Instead, Yi uses his artistic expression of Chinese motifs and symbolism to bring good fortune to those who view it. “He wants to give his public a blessing, grant them a wish,” Ou says.

In fact, Yi is a master at breathing beauty into ordinary life, which is precisely why his works often are displayed in highly visible public areas. His work often involves everyday beings – animals, fauna, Chinese icons – splashed with vivid color and intricate patterns. His process involves intricate metalwork, in which Yi calls upon artisans to assist him in hammering and welding materials in order to form the sculpture – usually that of an animal, and often a dog, Yi’s Zodiac sign and a critical component to his most successful works. “Yi believes that animals are human’s best friends,” Ou says, “and feels that, as an artist, he can harness the happiness and peace these animals bring us.”

Once the sculpture has been formed, Yi applies the latest spray painting techniques to give his drawings a polished veneer. Critics have boasted that Yi’s precision in art-making “involves the same attention to detail as the creation of a luxury car.”

Representing Yi is a big coup for InSian, an art space undoubtedly on its way to becoming a major force in the international art world. While the gallery has always worked with Taiwan’s most prominent artists, with works dating back to the late 1890s, Yi represents the future of InSian’s core mission of bringing Taiwanese art to the world. InSian currently represents a healthy mix of classical and modern artists.

Ou and his family are expecting Yi to usher the gallery into the global art world. “Hung Yi is very ambitious,” says Ou. “He wants to conquer the whole art world. He wants to be as famous as Jeff Koons.” If public admiration is any indication, then Yi’s star is most certainly on the rise.

Editor’s Note:

Fancy Animal Carnival opens on September 20th in the Garment District pedestrian plazas on Broadway from 36th to 41st Streets. The installation is free and will be open to the public through April 2017. The sculptures were brought to New York City by Emmanuel Fremin Gallery (New York), and InSian Gallery (Taiwan). Fancy Animal Carnival exhibit is sponsored by Orangenius and the Garment District Alliance, and is the latest in the Garment District Art on the Plazas series, which showcases world-class public art installations in the heart of midtown Manhattan. Stay tuned for more updates, including an app for the exhibition, brought to you by Orangenius!

About the author

Nicole Martinez

Nicole is a writer and law school graduate with a dedicated focus and passion for the arts, with a particular interest in Latin American art and history. Nicole has extensive experience working with art galleries and museums in Buenos Aires and Miami, and explores cultural landscapes across the Americas through her writing.

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